Madam Speaker, as best we can tell, this tiny blue-green planet, Earth, is home to the only life forms in our far-reaching universe. As far as we know, this is it; life only exists here on this one rock orbiting the sun. What a remarkable privilege that is, and what a remarkable and overwhelming responsibility.
Let us consider for a moment, across history and across species, all that had to come together to create the extraordinary conditions for life on Earth: to be suspended just so, between the sun's gravity and the earth's own centrifugal force, with just enough eccentricity of orbit to give us the majesty of the seasons; a magnetic field to protect us from cosmic rays and solar flares; a moon to give us tides; and an atmosphere to retain water and oxygen, the foundational ingredients of life as we know it.
What began three and a half billion years ago as bacteria, no more than single-celled organisms, today walks the earth as you and me and all living things that surround us. It is only here, only on this planet.
Let us consider the astounding breadth of human experience over time, the accomplishments of ingenuity and discovery, the progress we have made, the people loved and lost and every act of bravery, courage and passion. Despite the vastness of the known universe and everything we have accomplished, it happened only here. For us, this could be the end of it.
I am called from the very core of my being, as a life-long environmentalist, to use my voice in today's debate, because if passed, this motion introduced by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change will acknowledge and declare beyond any shadow of a doubt what so many Canadians already know, that there is a national climate emergency in Canada. Its approval would also set the Parliament of Canada on course to take the action necessary to meet Canada's emissions targets under the Paris Agreement. I believe this may be the most consequential vote I will ever cast in this place, and I implore my colleagues from all corners of this House to join me in voting yes.
I am a proud son of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada's ocean city. I am also a city planner who spent a career making my city and others more livable, prosperous and sustainable.
I am also a dad to Daisy Isabella Fillmore, a smart and beautiful 12-year-old girl who talks to me every day about our climate and our environment, and who, just last night, sent me a text message saying, “Daddy, can you please pass a bill to ban plastic straws?” Therefore, on her behalf, I am absolutely committed to the biggest fight of our time, and it is largely why I came to this place.
Halifax is perched like a jewel on the east coast of Canada, a city that has been shaped by the sea. While the Atlantic Ocean has always been a tremendous asset, increasingly it is going to become a threat. That is because Halifax has one of the fastest-rising sea levels in the country, and both the frequency and severity of extreme weather events are increasing rapidly. For these reasons, our city itself declared a climate emergency just this past January.
Last year, Globe and Mail reporter Matthew McClearn wrote extensively about this growing threat of sea-level rise, including its impact on Halifax. Here is what a local commercial real estate professional told McClearn when discussing flood risk on our beautiful downtown waterfront:
If you look at the five-metre contour [line], you can see that basically all of the buildings on our waterfront, from the casino right through to Bishop's Landing to the Port of Halifax, all of those buildings—the complete line of them—would be impacted. Perhaps catastrophically.
The outlook is just as troubling for other coastal communities in Canada as well, particularly in our north, which is warming at nearly three times the global rate.
Let us make no mistake, communities in central Canada are far from immune. In the last month alone, floods in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick have had a devastating impact. Here is what CBC's Isaac Olson reported from of Montreal just a few weeks ago:
Annie Pépin's kids were playing outside with her father Saturday as she cleaned the kitchen after supper. Sirens, and the blaring of a police cruiser's loudspeakers, shattered the evening calm.
“Evacuation now! Evacuation now!” she recalled hearing. “I got outside and I looked at my kids and they were screaming and crying. And then everybody was running.”
A 50-metre section of a natural dike holding back the Lake of Two Mountains had been breached in Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, an off-island suburb northwest of Montreal.
Water immediately began pouring into the town. Witnesses heard trees snapping under the rushing torrent.
Some residents would return days later by kayak and military escort, paddling into their living rooms in waste-deep water to collect pets and belongings and to survey the devastation to their homes and their neighbourhood.
Climate change is real, it is happening and it is happening here.
As members of Parliament, together we represent every corner of this country and every single Canadian. While not every riding borders an ocean or sits downstream from a fragile dike, not a single one of us, not a single one of our constituencies and not a single one of our constituents will be spared the effects of unchecked climate change.
The effects of climate change will be omnipresent. It will create serious national security challenges. Let us consider that this month, as tanks rolled into Ottawa to support residents following the declaration of a state of emergency, there were more troops deployed within Canada than deployed around the world.
Climate change will also create serious public health care challenges. More people will die from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress. Already air pollution causes seven million deaths a year.
Climate change will also create serious international migration challenges. The UN projects that by 2050 there will be at least 200 million climate refugees. Some projections put that number significantly higher, up to a billion. Let us consider that in 2018, the number of refugees worldwide, including Syrian refugees, totalled just 25 million.
Climate change, left unchecked, will have devastating impacts on our economy. Research shows that within four decades the cost of climate change to the Canadian taxpayer will reach between $21 billion and $43 billion annually. Fighting climate change is not just the right thing to do; it is good economic policy, too. The World Bank has estimated that climate change will open up to $23 trillion in clean investment opportunities around the world.
Historically in Canada, provinces with a price on pollution have been shown to be our country's strongest economic performers. In fact, last week we learned that, in the very same month that our government put a price on pollution in Ontario, we had the single-largest job gain on record. So much for that “job-killing carbon tax” the Conservatives warned us about.
On this side of the House, we have been saying it since day one: The environment and the economy go hand in hand. If one does not have a plan for the environment, one does not have a plan for the economy. It has been 382 days since the Conservative leader promised a climate plan, and still we have seen nothing. Last we heard, he promised to release his climate plan next month. I guess we will see. Perhaps he is waiting to get it back from the oil industry lobbyists with whom he recently met in secret. In any case, I will not be holding my breath.
To their credit, my colleagues in the NDP have begun to release parts of their climate plan. Of course, no one can say just how long it will stick. In recent weeks, the NDP leader has been flip-flopping on environmental issues and backtracking on previous positions, including LNG development in B.C. However, it does appear that on this particular issue, the NDP leader has finally arrived at the very firm position of “Well, who knows?” Wishy-washy is not much of a climate plan, either.
As for this team, we have a strong plan to fight climate change, and we are acting on it. It has more than 50 measures, including putting a price on pollution, protecting marine and terrestrial habitat, investing historic amounts in public transit, making electric vehicles and home energy retrofits more affordable, supporting clean technologies and phasing out coal power.
On a personal note, I am quite proud to say that our plan also includes a climate lens on all federally funded infrastructure projects under our investing in Canada plan. This is the result of my private member's motion, Motion No. 45, which I introduced in 2016 and which passed with support from all parties in this House, except the Conservative Party, unfortunately. That is what it will take to rise to the challenge of a national climate emergency: working collaboratively across party lines, regional divides and international borders to secure the political will and to undertake the necessary work to fight climate change tooth and nail.
We are running out of time. The effects of climate change have begun, and we have already lost too much. We learned recently that one million species are at risk of extinction, and climate change is one of the leading causes. It is an important reminder that this is not just about us. We share this place, after all, all of us together on this one planet, the only one in the vast universe known to sustain life. This cannot be how it ends.
I thank Daisy and all my constituents in Halifax for speaking to me so passionately about this.
It is now time to declare a national climate emergency in this country, and get to work.